Skip to main content
8:00 am
tavis: good evening. smiley. -- i am tavis smiley from los angeles. tonight, salman rushdie. his book is called "joseph anton," which was his book name. that is coming up. >> there is a saying that dr. king had that said there is always the right time to do the right thing. i just try to live my life every day by doing the right thing. we know that we are only halfway to completely eliminate hunger, and we have work to do.
8:01 am
walmart committed $2 billion to fighting hunger in the u.s. as we work together, we can stamp hunger out. >> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. tavis: please welcome salman rushdie that to the program. there was a fatwa placed against him following his release of "the satanic verses." welcome back to the program.
8:02 am
are you all right? let me start with a quote from this book. the book, i should mention, is written in third person. but this is from the book. to hide in this way is to be stripped of all self-respect. to be told to hide was a humiliation. maybe he thought to live like this would be worse than death. in his book "shame," he wrote about the access of honor and shame, the opposite of the christian idea of guilt and redemption. he was not religious and cared deeply. to sculpt and hyde was to lead a dishonorable live. he felt in many years both shame and ashamed. that is the writing in "joseph anton," which leads me to ask,
8:03 am
why write this book? you and i have met on a few occasions, but this was a book i did not think he would do. i did not think he wanted a part in going back to this. i was surprised you would do this. >> yes, and for a long time, i it did not want to. it was the last thing i wanted to do. i wanted to get back to my real life, novels and stories. but there was always this thing in my head. i knew that at some point, i had to tell the story. i used to joke with my friends that i would do it when i ran out of other things to do. but in the end, i thought i would lead it. barrett is a day when a little voice in my head tells me to do it, then i would, and that is, more or less, what happened. tavis: what story did you want
8:04 am
to tell? >> what happened in the tenures that followed. otherwise, i have not that much interest. but what happened is that my life, unfortunately, became interesting. and there was clearly a story there that was oddly exciting. it was like being dumped into eighth thriller or a spy novel or something. you know, riders are crazy people. even when you're in the middle of this terrible thing, you have got a little version sitting on your shoulder saying, "good story." and i knew that, which is why i kept a journal over the years. i did not know if there would be a time when i would be able to tell the story. i would not be the person
8:05 am
telling the story, so in one way, it feels good. life went back to normal. i had teniers the distance from this material. i could reflect on it in relative tranquility. there it is to tell. >> you used the words "and exciting" and "-- you use the words and exciting and another. was there anything thrilling or exciting or exhilarating about living through that period? >> at the time, not at all. it was scary and bewildering and threw me off balance. i had to worry about my family and my friends and my business colleagues and my booksellers and publishers, so get the time, no, it was no fun to live through, but in retrospect,
8:06 am
there was a hell of a story there. and it is also that i felt that the thing that happened to me came to feel to me like a prologue to a much larger story, and i thought i wanted to show this connection. this was a moment that became much more inclusive with the narrative. tavis: i will come back to "joseph anton." what do you make of what we are dealing with now? >> there is the way in which anger, an outrage, of violence is manufactured. this is not spontaneous. i felt what happened to me and what is happening now not primarily motivated by religion. it was motivated by politics. there were people thought they
8:07 am
had something to gain by engendering this violence that goes with it, and in other respects, it is my view, but the response is rather similar, and what it shows is that people in the islamic world, political leaders and politically motivated religious leaders have become very good at manufacturing this response. tavis: you think this is completely manufactured? none of it is a buildup of offensive that those persons in that part of the world have taken year after year after year on the part of the u.s., wittingly or unwittingly? >> there is some part of that, american foreign policy, some resentment of the various foreign wars that are being
8:08 am
waged, iraq, for example, the dropo killings, all of that kind of stuff, but i think the anger comes from more profound sources been bet. these are people usually in places where the young men, almost all of them really have no prospects. no jobs. they have very little chance of making a good living for themselves, getting married, so there is a frustration, and that frustration is easily channeled by political leaders. they can be named. it becomes like letting off steam. tavis: we are heading into these presidential debates. one of these debates, it will be dealing with foreign policy, and we have already seen how mr. obama and mr. romney have
8:09 am
responded. with libya and other parts of the world. what is your sense that they need to calibrate the situation going forward? >> it is a difficult thing for america, because i think it is very important to hold the line. it is important to say we have some fundamental freedoms in this country that we cherish and that we are not going to bat down from that. it is very important to say that while at the same time not slamming the door on conversations with people. i think president obama is much closer to getting it right. mr. romney has said a few dumb things. tavis: you lived to write this book and tell the story in your own voice. there are those around you that are not as fortunate.
8:10 am
>> that is correct. tavis: how do you feel about the death that came to those around you? >> it was terrifying. two of my translators in italy and japan, and my japanese translator actually died. he was a college professor. he was killed one night on campus in an elevator shaft, and it is clear from the investigation that this was not some random killing. this was a professional hit. these were paid assassins sent to do this. my norwegian publisher was shot in the back three times, and again it was a professional hit. i sometimes felt that because i was not killed, there was a public feeling that maybe nobody was trying to kill me. it was being exaggerated and so on, but this was a war. people in real danger.
8:11 am
people very badly hurt. i felt responsible for that. they were hit because they were easier to hit than me, and i remember having this conversation with my norwegian publisher after he recovered from his near-death experience, and i began to apologize to him, and he stopped me and said, "you have nothing to apologize for. i am the publisher. i know what i am doing. i published your book." and then he said, "by the way, i just ordered a big reprint." tavis: i guess the folks at random house did not know what they were getting into. >> i don't think anybody knew what we were getting into. what was new about this was the international dimension, you
8:12 am
know, the idea that the head of one state would point across the world to citizens of another country, who are living in their own country, having done nothing wrong in their country, and saying, "let's kill them, and if you do not, we will send someone." death squads. it took a long time to know how to deal with it. tavis: one of the striking things in the book is the degree to which you were ignorant, and i say that pejoratively, and that you did not even know what you said that had gotten you into so much trouble. >> i did not know. i thought 99% of the people who acted against the book did not bother to read it. there was an indian muslim politician that actually took pride in not reading it. he said, "i do not need to wait
8:13 am
in the gutter to know that it contains the of -- i do not need to wade in the gutter to know that it contains filth." there was a lot of that. tavis: how did you first learn that you had this thought what -- this fatwa? >> i got called by a journalist from the bbc, and she said, "how do you know that -- how does it feel to know that you have just been condemned to death by the ayatollah khamenei?" i said something like it did not feel good, and then i ran around the home, locking doors and
8:14 am
shutters, as if that would help, and i did not know how to take it. was this just rhetorical, or was it real? doing in interview, cbs television, and i went, and even the journalists there did not know how to take it, whether it was rhetorical or real. tavis: what made it clear that it was not a joke? >> within 24 hours, i was being told that the british bleeped that there was, as they put it rather chillingly, that there was a high probability that i would be a target of attack. and the reason i was offered protection for the british was
8:15 am
that the attack was being coming up -- was coming from another state. terrorism. tavis: how did you and others process the extreme amounts of money that was being spent by the british government to protect you? >> first of all, it was not as extreme it. i had to shoulder some of the costs. there is a view of all of these government safe houses. i was never offered a government safe house. it was up to me to find a place tuesday. that made them very expensive. and i remember once saying to one of the police officers, supposing "the satanic verses" are not generating the kind of revenue -- suppose it was a
8:16 am
poem. if he were protecting a poet with the kinds of funds that poets and normally have, what would you do? -- that poets would normally have, what would you do? and he said, we did not know that. anyone in britain who has been a target would be protected. sovereignty. tavis: you talk about what it felt like to be in hiding, and it brought on your feelings of shame and ashamed. >> i think it is humiliating to be put in a corner, is essentially locked up, and told, "and not talk, because he will make things worse."
8:17 am
i felt it as a humiliation. it took me awhile to somewhat break those chains and begin to fight back, to begin to argue back, and slowly with the help of friends to put together a campaign, a political campaign, to try to reach out to various governments in the world to get their support, and the moment i started doing that, i actually felt better. i felt more dignified. i felt i am not just a target. i am arguing my side of it. there is more self-respect in net, and, gradually, that campaign became more successful. one of the great moments of it was when we were able to persuade a president not long after he became president, and that was one of the turning
8:18 am
point. 2 the president of in the united states so they," ok, i am going to be on this guys decide," it stiffens the spine -- i am going to be on this guy's side." when the tony blair government was elected in lint -- in england, the world should not act like this, but it does -- i had been a labour party guy, and some of these people were friends of mine. there was someone i had been involved with, and we were both involved in the campaign for elected moral reform. we knew each other from that. and he became really passionate. he came to the foreign office. he said, "we are going to get it
8:19 am
fixed. leave it to me." the support of that and the administration is what brought them to the negotiating table and got it solved. tavis: how do you fix a fatwa? >> some broad think, where anybody can get outraged and carry it out. actually, in all of those years, the only threat to me and to everyone else was the threat from the iranian state. that is not to say it was not a dangerous threat. persons being dispatched by the iranian state. there was never any sense of any other danger. nobody else ever got involved. to standing down those people to
8:20 am
stop doing that, essentially, -- tavis: this is clearly about first person. salman rushdie. why write in the third person? >> i started to write in the first person, and i did not like it much. me, me, me. i did not like it. there was too much of that self- regarding stuff. it was easier for me to be objective, including about my own behavior. been rougher on yourself than anyone else. otherwise, it looks like you are making excuses. nobody wants to read hundred -- hundreds of pages about everything i did is right. the reader must know that this
8:21 am
is someone who understands himself. these are the things he did wrong, things he could do better. he knows his weaknesses as well as his strengths. for some reason, i found that easier to do when i took this one sideways step away from myself to talk about it in the third person. tavis: speaking about being objective about yourself, which i think is the most difficult thing for humans to do, did you developed any sort of, i am reaching for the right word, empathy for persons who might have misunderstood or taken offense to what you said, although not intended by you? >> books are things that people have strong opinions about, even in normal circumstances. it is perfectly legitimate for people to read a book of mine and find that it upsets them or
8:22 am
whatever. theron of. that happens. i think it has been often the case with some of the best works that they divide readers. some people love them. some people hate them. that is fair enough. but to go from that towards violence is what is not acceptable. the book came out in england. in america, it came out after the fatwa. there was an argument about it, and i was a part of that argument. there were people who disliked the book on television and in print, and i thought that was ok. that is one of the things that books have often done, which is to start arguments, and those can often be fruitful. i was prepared to have that argument. of course, i did not expect everyone to be on my side, but once the subject of murder
8:23 am
enters the story, then the subject changes. it is not about the book, it is about what do you do about the death threats. tavis: what did you learn about yourself? >> a lot of things. first of all, i learned about a lot of weaknesses and things i wish i would have done better and so on, and i have tried to chronicle lows. but i learned that i was tougher than i thought. if you had told me in february 1989, here is what is going to happen to you, and it is going to go on for 12 years, and it will be like this, how do you think it would be 12 years from now? coming up the other and reasonably in one piece, i think i am reasonably in one piece, so it is one of those things about life. sometimes the most difficult questions, we do not know the
8:24 am
answer until we are asked, until we are put in the situation. we do not know how we will deal with it. but somehow, i was resilient enough to deal with it. tavis: it is pretty obvious for those of us who are avid readers, but why "joseph anton"? >> i invented this from conrad and chekhov. chekhov is a great poet of melancholy and alienation and people trapped in one place, longing to be something else, and i felt a little bit in that position. and then conrad, there is a great mind in one of his novels, in which there is a sailor who is dying of tuberculosis on a ship, and one of his shipmates
8:25 am
said, "why did you get on the ship? you knew you were sick. why did you get on the ship?" and that became to me like a modern. -- motto. work. be. you must live on till you die. tavis: the new book from salman rushdie, it is called "joseph anton." and everyone is talking about it already. good to have on the program. thank you. that is our show for tonight. until next time, keep the faith. >> for more information on today's show, visit tavis smiley at tavis: hi, i'm tavis smiley. join me next time for a conversation with a former frontman. and mmr.
8:26 am
that is next time. we will see you then. >> there is a saying that dr. king had that said there is always the right time to do the right thing. i just try to live my life every day by doing the right thing. we know that we are only halfway to completely eliminate hunger, and we have work to do. walmart committed $2 billion to fighting hunger in the u.s. as we work together, we can stamp hunger out. >> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. thank you.
8:27 am
8:28 am
8:29 am

Tavis Smiley
WHUT September 25, 2012 8:00am-8:30am EDT

News/Business. Interviews with newsmakers, politicians and celebrities. (CC) (Stereo)

TOPIC FREQUENCY Joseph Anton 4, Salman Rushdie 4, England 2, Mr. Romney 2, Conrad 2, Tavis Smiley 2, Los Angeles 1, Iraq 1, Italy 1, Not 1, Bet 1, Libya 1, Bbc 1, Cbs 1, Smiley 1, Theron 1, Ayatollah Khamenei 1, Blair 1, Barrett 1, Mr. Obama 1
Network WHUT
Duration 00:30:00
Scanned in Annapolis, MD, USA
Source Comcast Cable
Tuner Channel 78 (549 MHz)
Video Codec mpeg2video
Audio Cocec ac3
Pixel width 528
Pixel height 480
Sponsor Internet Archive
Audio/Visual sound, color